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Boaz Hirsch, Chair of the Kimberley Process : “The Credibility of the Kimberley Process is the Most Important Asset we Have”

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Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

Boaz Hirsch, Chair of the Kimberley Process for 2010 and Deputy Director General for Foreign Trade in Israel’s Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor, granted the Israel Diamond Institute an interview to discuss the issues concerning the KP just prior to the 2010 Plenary session, due to be hosted by Israel in Jerusalem between the 1st and 4th of November.

Israel Diamond Institute: At the Kimberley Process intersessional meeting held in June in Tel Aviv, you introduced the three initiatives of enforcement, a permanent office for KP administration and support, and a Working Group on Trade Facilitation. What is the status of these initiatives?

Boaz Hirsch: These initiatives are currently the subject of intensive discussions with the members of the Kimberley Process, and there is quite a wide level of support for these initiatives. The level of support is not yet 100% – and we are aware that we need 100% – but they do enjoy a strong level of support. We need, of course, the consensus of all the participants.

There is a lot of debate still ongoing on our initiative to form an office of administration and support. This is the most debated of all the initiatives. But we have another month to go until the Plenary session.

Everyone is involved in progressing this issue. In practical terms, a transformation such as introducing an administrative body to the Kimberley Process is a fundamental change to the nature of process. The Kimberley Process is a very special system without any specific organization – it is a system which is based on a voluntary nature. The sudden introduction of a permanent, dedicated, supranational body to this process which is based very much on the activities of its members is a very significant change. People are cautious and waiting to examine the nature of the administrative body – to see if it is flexible enough and not too demanding in terms of funding. These are the issues that are being examined now.

As part of our vision, we regard these initiatives as important to the dynamic nature of the Kimberley Process as well as the capability of the Kimberley Process to deal with the reality as it is today. We think these initiatives will contribute to the effectiveness of the organization and also to its pubic image. That is the vision.

What is the situation regarding Venezuela, and its 2 year suspension from the KP which is due to end this year?

There is no change at the moment. Unfortunately, the diplomatic relations between Israel and Venezuela are frozen at the moment. We have transferred messages to Venezuela via various countries that we would be most delighted if they will come to the plenary in November. We wish to make the message loud and clear that we want them to come. We think that the KP needs to be a professional forum in which all the relevant players are involved. We need to solve the differences of opinion internally.

To date, we have not yet received a reply from Venezuela, though our inquiries were sent before the summer. We have also held meetings with other countries in order to bring this message to Venezuela.

Has Israel heading the process had any influence on the country’s political relations?

It is very hard for me to answer this as a representative of the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor as opposed to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

However, there is little doubt that to serve as Chair of a process that is so large and so important, which touches many continents, such as Africa, Australia, the United States, Asia, involves trade worth billions, affects the employment of millions of people worldwide, as well as relating to sensitive issues such as human rights, there is no doubt that such a process contributes to the standing of Israel.

Next year’s chair is the Democratic Republic of the Congo. How is the handover going, and how do you think the process will be with an African producer country chairing it?

As far as the handover is concerned we already began that process at the intersessional meeting in Tel Aviv when the two teams met and exchanged information both about substance and technicalities.

We have also scheduled a teleconference with the DRC representatives prior to the Plenary in order to update them on the status, and there will be another session of information exchange and briefing in Jerusalem.

It was a challenge for Israel – it is still a challenge – to navigate such a sensitive and complex process. I can imagine that it would be the same for any other candidate. I think the fact that we manage to pass the chairmanship between a trading country to a producing country – previously it was India and Namibia and now it is Israel and the Democratic Republic of the Congo – exemplifies the diversity of the Kimberley Process and hopefully increases links between the parties concerned.

Regarding Zimbabwe, no decisions were made at the intersessional. Do you think that a solution will be reached at the plenary meeting? If not, does it leave the KP ‘impotent’?

We cannot exaggerate the sensitive nature concerning the Zimbabwe or the Marange issue. What we are awaiting now – and this will be a key parameter – is the report from the review mission that was in Zimbabwe in August. Once we see the report and its consequences I should be in a better position to answer this question. I have spoken with the different members of the review mission. I have heard their views and their records but I have to wait for the final compilation.

Undoubtedly this issue is a challenge. On the one hand, we do see changes carried out by the Zimbabwean government. On the other hand there are the concerns that there are challenges there that still have to be met.

As we all saw, unfortunately, it wasn’t easy to overcome the impasse at the intersessional meeting. Whether the same thing awaits us at the plenary I very much hope not. We are trying to get ready to avoid such a scenario.

In practical terms, what is relevant to Zimbabwe is the fulfillment of the Joint Working Plan (JWP) which was developed in Swakopmund, Namibia. The JWP talks of the issues of smuggling and demilitarization and many other subjects. These are the commitments that have to be undertaken.

What of the concerns that have been expressed that the trade will go underground and possibly get into the hands of terrorist groups if there is no way of legitimately exporting diamonds from Zimbabwe?

I would not go in the direction of terror. The Kimberley Process is not an intelligence or spy agency. I simply don’t want to see the smuggling of diamonds. Period. That is one of the reasons why we are so devoted to the initiative of enforcement.

This issue precisely defines our dilemma. On one hand we want Zimbabwe inside the process, just as want Venezuela inside, since we want to discuss the problems internally. I appreciate that there are financial requirements involved as well as market demands, and that if we don’t find a pragmatic solution then diamonds will be smuggled. It is not just an issue of stopping diamonds getting into the hands of terrorists – the moment diamonds are smuggled, the Kimberley Process will be undermined. That was the point of the meeting in St. Petersburg which was held in July.

We are committed to finding a solution that is both workable and serves the credibility of the Kimberley Process. The credibility of the Kimberley Process is the most important asset that we have and, at the end of the day, serves the diamond industry as a whole as well as the Israeli diamond industry.